Houston Today: A Window into the United States of Tomorrow

“No force in the world is going to stop Houston or Texas or America from becoming more Latino, more African American, more Asian, and less Anglo as the 21st century unfolds. Nothing in the world can stop that.” – Dr. Stephen L. Klineberg, 2014 International Language Services Conference, Texas Medical Center

Golovine Klein

Dr. Stephen Klineberg (left) and CEO Mila Golovine (right) at the 3rd Annual International Language Services Conference in Houston, Texas.

To a mixed crowd of medical administrators, practitioners, and interpreters at the 3rd Annual International Language Services Conference in Houston, Texas, Dr. Stephen Klineberg delivered the only speech on demographics that I have ever seen bring people to tears.

Many in attendance were first, second, and third generation immigrants to Houston. They watched emotionally as the story of their families played out on the slides before them, and they saw how they and their families had contributed to their city growing both more prosperous and more diverse. Revealing this story as it unfolds has been the charge of sociology professor, Stephen Klineberg, and his colleagues at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

The Year that Changed it All

After a boom that had lasted for almost a decade, in May 1982 world oil prices collapsed. Houston, an oil town of just over a million people, was impacted tremendously but eventually found a way to bounce back. Dr. Klineberg ascribes Houston’s resurgence to what he calls a “demographic revolution.”

 “In the last 30 years, Houston has become the single most ethnically diverse city in America.”

 Dr. Klineberg attributes much of Houston’s growth and economic success over the last 30 years to the “vitality, energy, and hard work” of the steady flow of immigrants into the city. For comparison, in 1982 Anglos made up 74% of Houston’s population. Today they account for less than 33%, with the Latino population at 41%, African American at 18% and Asian at 8%.

 One interesting indicator of Houston’s diversity is the number of people who have experienced interracial relationships. According to one Kinder Institute survey, almost 60% of Anglos ages 18 to 39 report having had a relationship with a person of another race.

 A Window into the Future

Not only does Houston have a diverse population, its population is more evenly distributed than any other city. What we see in Houston today is a window into the United States of tomorrow. A more even distribution of races and ethnicities can be expected throughout the country 15 to 20 years from now.

There still remain some concerns when dealing with such a diverse population. One concern is how Houston will fair in a new economy in which a college education is key to greater earnings. Kinder Institute surveys demonstrate that a higher percentage of non-Anglo responders recognize education beyond high school as being important even though Anglos tend to have higher rates of college graduates. The lower rates of college graduates among other groups are tied to other barriers, which will need to be addressed.

One of those barriers is money. Dr. Klineberg points out that over the last few decades there has been a redistribution of wealth away from the poor to the very rich, “and this inequity is predicated above all else on access to education.” Interestingly, hard working immigrants and children of immigrants are finding ways to step out of poverty and reach out for advanced education despite income equality, a trend particularly noticeable among Latinos.

Houston continues to diversify and grow economically. As Dr. Klineberg noted in his speech, “No force in the world is going to stop Houston or Texas or America from becoming more Latino, more African American, more Asian, and less Anglo as the 21st century unfolds. Nothing in the world can stop that.” The group gathered at the Texas Medical Center was a living testament to Dr. Klineberg’s words.

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